The Drop Zone

It's simple, it's beautiful—just lose ten pounds of fat and you'll fly

Feb 1, 2005
Outside Magazine
lose ten pounds

IF YOU WANT TO ENSURE a great summer of cycling or running, we've got one piece of advice: Lose ten pounds this winter. Shaving body weight is the easiest way to add kick to your game come Memorial Day. By that time, your lighter (and dare we say sexier) bod will be faster and sleeker—and primed for its best season of action.

The most famous example of the leaner-equals-meaner mantra is Lance Armstrong, who lost more than 20 pounds as a result of cancer treatments. That drop helped make him faster in the end. But you probably don't have to lose that much.

A better example comes from another legendary cyclist, Miguel Indurain. In the fall of 1990, the six-foot-two-inch Spanish rider weighed a muscular 184 pounds—too heavy to stay competitive in the mountain stages of the Tour de France. But that winter, a consultant to Indurain's team, Max Testa, now director of sports performance at the University of California at Davis, figured out the optimal ratio of power to body weight for cyclists, based on his studies of past Tour winners (see "The Golden Ratio," below). To reach it, Indurain had to shed only 12 pounds. Which he did. The next year he won his first of five consecutive Tours.

Like cyclists, runners also benefit from going lean. "Any extra flab is dead weight that isn't going to help you generate accelerating force," says Tom Osler, author of The Serious Runner's Handbook. To make his case, Osler analyzed 40 years of data from 1,800 races, ranging from 5Ks to marathons, and found that, on average, every extra pound of body fat costs 2.5 seconds per mile. Drop ten pounds and, over the course of a marathon, you'll shave close to 11 minutes off your time.

NOW, DON'T FREAK OUT. We're not suggesting you go on a crash diet à; la Bill Clinton. In fact, assuming you already have a decent exercise regimen and eat right, taking off a ten-spot doesn't require any extra sweat. (But make sure that weight loss is real, not just fleeting water loss.)

All you need to do is make small changes in how and when you eat (see "Your Loss Is Your Gain," next page). But you have to start now—winter is the ideal season for dropping the lard. "Trying to lose weight while you're training hard during the late spring and over the summer will impair your ability to build strength and speed when you need it most," says David Costill, the recently retired director of the human-performance lab at Indiana's Ball State University.

With this in mind, make it your goal to arrive at your trimmer self two months before any big event you've got inked in for the summer. "That way, you'll be able to get the most out of those two months of training," says Costill. Losing ten pounds can make you faster, but you still have to work to make yourself fast.

The Golden Ratio » A potential world champion in an endurance sport like cycling needs to maintain a power output of 2.7 watts per pound of body weight for 45 minutes. (Which, coincidentally, is believed to be Lance Armstrong's output during a mountain climb in the Tour de France.) Mere recreational mortals should consider themselves optimally fit once they attain a more down-to-earth ratio of 1.6 watts per pound of body weight. Translated, this means a 170-pound athlete should be able to pump out an average of 272 watts over 45 minutes. And remember: The more weight you lose, the easier it will be to hit the target ratio—a 160-pounder's goal is a more reasonable 254 watts. To find out your current ratio, hop on any treadmill or stationary bike that measures watts, go as hard as you can for 45 minutes, then do the math.

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web